Hiking is very popular in Czech republic and tourist marked trails has more than hundred years tradition. Mild natural conditions gave us the possiblity to develop a wide network of marked trails. Throughout the small country almost without inaccessible places you can explore a dense network of 40 000 km of marked and well connected hiking routes. The quality of trail marking combined with accessibility of good tourist maps makes this network probably the best marking system in Europe.
History of Czech Tourist Club (Klub Českých Turistů), which maintains the marking system on a voluntary basis, dates back to 19th century. In 1888 a group of patriots around Vojta Náprstek founded the tourist club which now has thousands of members. Many of them regularly walk all the trails with a small bucket of oil-based paint colored in white and one of four possibilities of red, blue, green and yellow.
Standard tourist sign you would see along the trail consists of three horizontal lines placed into a square of 10x10 cm. There are two white lines on the top and on the bottom and the middle one bears the color. Four types of colors are used mostly to distinguish different trails when they meet and to make the orientation easier. There is no strict meaning of the marking color, but in most cases it has this hierarchy:
Red - main routes, long distance routes or ridgeways
Blue - other more important routes
Green - local routes
Yellow - short routes, connecting routes and shortcuts
Signs are placed along the trail on trees, rocks, house corners or columns. Turns are indicated with an arrow. When more trails meet, different colored signs are placed one above the other. Crossroads and important places are equipped with guideposts. Metal plates with names of other places and distances in kilometres tell you all possibilities how to continue your trip. Plates are always set to show the direction of another hike. Some of crossroads are also equipped with a map board.
The Czech tourist club has also mapped all the country and keeps updating the whole edition of hiking maps with all the trails marked. Most of them are available in 1: 50 000 scale and can be purchased in some bookstores, tobacco shops, museums and touristic information points. There is also a possibility of downloading the offline version of www.mapy.cz which is a very useful map portal in Czech Republic.
Marked tourist trails are designed to show beautiful natural places, sceneries, historical landmarks and other interesting places. The trip can be easily planned with the use of public transport network. Especially train used to be a traditional hikers transport, so many of marked trails starts at railway station.
In addition to these classic hiking trails, there are many educational circuits. Usually in a naturally or historically very important area, there are short circuits marked with similar signs system. The only difference is, that the color-bearing line is diagonal. Along the educational trail you meet a series of information boards dedicated to the nature or history of the locality. Unfortunately they are mostly only in czech.
Besides hiking trails, there are plenty of routes designed for cycling or crosscountry skiing. They basically use the same system. Cycling routes use a yellow background and xc-skiing routes use an orange background instead of white. There is also another cycling routes marking system using yellow plates and violet line in some maps. This marking is not that frequent along the road and simply indicates distances to destinations.
Here are some of my personal favorites. It is so hard not to mention dozens of trails and pick only a few. I personally prefer more complicated terrain, no asphalt, not many wide roads, just small trails, better in hilly landscape with beautiful views. So take good shoes, some snack and enjoy:
Kokořínsko - rock mazes, sandstone formations and a romantic castle
This 20 km loop brings you to one of the most romantic places in Czech republic. Kokořínsko (Kokořín area) named after a Medieval castle is also called Máchův kraj (Mácha’s region). Karel Hynek Mácha was a famous czech romantic poet, who lived in 19th century and his life was connected with this region. Kokořínsko, in northern Bohemia, is a protected natural area due to its specific geological conditions, unspoiled forests and picturesque sandstone formations which inspire your fantasy.
The best starting point is the city Mšeno. You can get there by one hour bus ride with changing in Mělník. The bus stops at the square, where there is also a signpost. Start following red trail in direction of Kokořínský Důl and Kokořín. There is also a blue trail which leaves at Bílka crossroad and green which leaves a bit later at Sedlec. Here the trail leaves the village and descends to forested valley. Above slopes on both sides picturesque sandstone walls and towers rise. Long time ago, there was a plateau of sandstone rock. Once the water got into small cracks in soft material and started to deepen them. Formations around you are a result of thousands years of erosion.
At the bottom of the valley you will join an asphalted road going to Kokořínský důl village. If you are hungry, your time has came here. Refreshed continue right on the road which you leave at the end of the village. Keep following red trail passing several ponds covered with waterlilies. When you join the road again, you are directly below the castle. The signpost says Kokořín-dolina and a blue path goes right to the castle (Kokořín - odb. ke hradu) shortcutting the turns of paved road.
Stone steps lead to a small door in a massive defense wall of a medieval castle. It was built in 13th century and seriously damaged about a hundred years later during husite wars. Than many owners changed until it became a national cultural monument at the beginning of new millennium. Nowadays it is a favorite tourist destination with both individual and guided visit available. The breathtaking view definitely worths climbing the steep wooden staircase inside the highest tower.
Once you get back down to the main road continue following the red trail hiking the other side of the valley. After several shallow ponds between the trail and the road, you will reach the signpost Pokličky - rozcestí. Here red and blue meets. Take the blue on your right. There are more of them, so choose the one pointing to Pokličky and climb steep stone and wooden steps to Pokličky (Lids, tea table rocks).
Tea table rock formations stand out of the forest like huge mushrooms. Harder ferrous rock surface layer makes a lid over an uneven cone of softer sandstone rock below, which was more affected by erosion.
Blue trail continues in direction of Na Rovinách. Before you get there, prepare you imagination to see a huge head and frog - sandstone formations named after their shape. At Na Rovinách leave the blue trail and keep following the yellow educational trail that has joined you by the Head and Frog. Cinibulkova Naučná Stezka is a 9 km loop named after a teacher from Mšeno, who lived at the beginning of 20th century. It leads you through a beautiful sandstone landscape with rock labyrinths and fairytale formations. It is also equipped with informational boards explaining local geology, history, fauna and flora.
After more than ¾ of the circle and having seen everything interesting you come back to the city of Mšeno around a lovely reconstructed outdoor swimming pool originated from 1930s.
Reserve a whole long day for this trip, because there is a lot to see and it doesn’t worth to hurry. Also take enough water and snack with you, because there are not many possibilities to buy something on the way.
Drábské Světničky and rock castles - sandstone paradise
The area called Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj) really deserves it’s name. It is a paradise of sandstone rock towers, forests and natural panorama lookouts. It is also famous among climbers, but you need a lot of courage and skill to climb here. All the area is full of historical castles and romantical ruins. Our 17 km trip explores the westernmost part of Bohemian Paradise.
The starting bus stop is called Boseň, pod Valečovem and it takes about two hours with changing in Mnichovo Hradiště (or also in Mladá Boleslav). You can also hike another 4,5 km (red marked trail) from Mnichovo Hradiště to the Pod Valečovem crossroad. Coming by car, there is also a big parking here. From the bus stop in Boseň, Pod Valečovem (north of the village Boseň) few hundred meters northward.
From Pod Valečovem (under Valečov), you already see a tower on a small hill. It belongs to the ruin (zřícenina in czech) of castle Valečov, which you are about to see after a short walk up the red trail. In the beginning of 14th century sandstone blocks were used to found a fort. First it was wooden and burnt out during husite wars. Than it was rebuilt of stone. Behind the castle, there are stone dwellings, 28 tiny apartments carved in sandstone rock. They were used as a wintering place for husite soldiers. After the castle was abandoned, these apartments became a housing for poor people called Skaláci (rock people), who lived there till the end of 19th century.
Continue following red trail in direction Skalka, Klamorna and Drábské Světničky. The trails passes through a nice forest with some rocks and views. Before Klamorna it climbs steep to a rocky plateau. Klamorna is an archeological site where you can admire remnants of a rock castle. Red trail continues on a rocky edge of a rocky plateau to Drábské Světničky which is another rock castle ruin. It consists of seven isolated sandstone blocks connected by wooden bridges. Right bellow the lookout, there is a highway and a small aitport. The city Mnichovo Hradiště lies in a Jizera river flatland. Behind, in the distance you can see forests of Kokořínsko area with some hills on the horizon.
The red trail continues along the rocky edge of an elevated plateau till Na Krásné vyhlídce, where you can refresh in a small restaurant. The name means Beautiful view, but you have already seen better and this one is partly covered by trees.
After Stará Hrada signpost the trail descends steeply. There are some metal and wooden steps to make you way through sandstone formations easier. In Příhrazy, you pass around a camping with an old outdoor concrete swimming pool. Here you are in the middle of the hike. There is another possibility of refreshment before you climb steeply to U věže. For the climbing, equipped with some wooden steps, a yellow trail joins. Keep following the red trail till Hynšta, where you will switch to blue signs. On the crossroad continue straight while the red goes to the left.
A short sidetrip worths to climb to Hynšta Modlitebna, another rock castle ruin. The most significant is a remnant of a chappel carved into a rock in 17th century used by czech Unity of the Breethem, who were hiding here.
The blue trail continues through a rocky forest. Passing Černá louže and Obětní kámen (Sacricicial stone) on the hill Smrkovec. There is a significant bowl-shaped stone with several overhanging rocks nearby on the top of a small hill. A blue trail leaves the small road for a while to climb there.
Back on the small road descend slightly to a bigger road till Skalka, where the blue trail ends. Here you have already passed in the beginning after Valečov castle. You can easily stay on the road to get to the starting point.
There is also a possibility to make the trip much shorter by skipping Příhrazy and Hynšta. The shortcut from Na Krásné vyhlídce to Skalka follows a green marked trail on an asphalted road. Through apple orchards and a village called Mužský. The hill with the same name is located before the village on your left. With its 463 metres is the highest point of Mladá Boleslav District. There is not a marked trail to the top, just a simple sign from the road. On the top, there is a stone monument and of course a nice view.
I can’t speak about hiking without mentioning my favorite Krkonoše (Giant mountains), our highest mountains on the northern border. What I love the most, is a long distance ridgeway following the czech-polish border. Basically any part of it is nice. To pick an example well connected to public transport, I describe a 25 km whole day traverse from Harrachov to Špindlerův Mlýn. Both of these small cities are located at southern foothills and close to the border of national Park KRNAP (KRkonošský NÁrodní Park).
Both of bus rides take almost three hours, so consider staying overnight at the starting or final point. There are also some mountain huts and hotels which you can use to make a two days hike with a small detour. In Harrachov you can visit a museum of glass-work museum and a microbrewery. Whilst Špindlerův Mlýn is one of the most famous winter and summer recreational spot overloaded with hotels and restaurants. There is also a swimming pool, high rope funpark, summer bobsled and many other attractions.
Starting from Harrachov, the bus stops at the upper end of the city. Take a blue signs and climb slightly on the asphalted road winding in the valley of Mumlava stream. Soon you pass around a small waterfall. At signpost called Krakonošova Snídaně (Ruberzahl’s breakfast). Krakonoš (Ruberzahl) is a folklore mountain spirit of these mountains. Here turn sharp left, switching to yellow and climb 2 km to Vosecká Bouda (hut). After a half km more, at Svinské Kameny, you are finally at the ridge and cz-pl border.
Turn right and from here follow the red marked trail. You will see both czech and polish signposts and direction plates. Czech indicate distances in km, polish in walking time. You will notice also big metallic pictogram shaped plates with arrows. They are called speechless marking and together with a row of wooden sticks along the trail, they are very useful in winter when a fog and frost don’t allow you to see anything else.
Enjoying beautiful views to both czech and polish sides proceed following the red ridge trail. From Česká Budka consider a side trip to the spring of Elbe river (Pramen Labe) recognized by a well and emblems of cities lying on the river. Nearby, there is Labská bouda (Elbe hut), where the waterfall drops down to Labský důl (Elbe valley). The upper stream of Elbe later passes through Špindlerův Mlýn.
Back on the red trail, close to a high building, you can admire two glacial cirques with small lakes at the bottom called Sněžné Jámy. Continue following red trail on the stony footpath surrounded with granite boulders (some of them named) till Špindlerova bouda. By a huge hotel with restaurant, there is a czech-polish border crossing and a final station of a bus, coming from the city. You can make your hike easier (both getting down and getting up from the city in case of other direction) or you can hike the green marked trail down the valley.
At Pod Jeleními Boudami, you will join Elbe’s tributary Bílé labe (White Elbe) coming from another valley. Few hundreds meters later it joins Labe at Pod Dívčí strání. From here a blue marked path along the river brings you to Špindlerův Mlýn.